Dangerous smart motorways under investigation for “ongoing risk of death”

By - World Infrastructure Journal

Dangerous smart motorways under investigation for "ongoing risk of death"

MPs have began an investigation into "inherently dangerous" smart motorways, which kill 19 people annually. This was launched by the Transport Committee after a coroner claimed they had an "ongoing risk of death".

The inquiry will question whether:

  • A 'rethink' on smart motorways is needed
  • Safety measures should be enhanced
  • An information and awareness campaign should be created

Smart motorways, which have been a part of UK highways since 2002, use technology to ease traffic flow. An 'all-lane running version' opened hard shoulders to vehicles permanently in 2014. Alternatively, 'dynamic hard shoulders' open and close dependent on traffic congestion.

Yet the lack of hard shoulder poses a significant danger to broken down vehicles.

The AA raised concerns that this puts motorway users at a major risk and a recent RAC Report on Motoring Survey revealed that almost 70 per cent of drivers felt removing hard shoulders compromised safety.

On these smart motorways, without hard shoulders, 19 people die a year on average.

The launch of this investigation came as a result of two men being killed by an oncoming lorry. Without a hard shoulder, their stationary vehicles which had been involved in a colision could not move out of the way of traffic. The coroner in this case reported that "I find, as a finding of fact, it is clear a lack of hard shoulder contributed to this tragedy."

Just today, one person was killed in a smart motorway crash and last month, Highways England was referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for corporate manslaughter after a 62 year old woman was killed on these kind of roads.

The Department for Transport and Highways England maintain however that smart motorways typically have lower casualty and personal injury rates. Chairman of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman, expressed that this has not been communicated to the public whose confidence "has been dented by increasing fatalities on these roads."

Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, said earlier this year that he "inherited" smart motorways and vowed to improve motorway safety. He has since published an 18-point action plan which includes:

  • Abolishing 'dynamic hard shoulder' smart motorways
  • Installing 'stopped vehicle detection' technology within 36 months
  • Reducing the distance between emergency stop points 
  • Spending £5 million on increasing drivers understanding of smart motorways 

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport explained that "we welcome this important inquiry from the Transport Committee and we will provide written evidence to help in its work."

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